The Cowboy in Country Music: Lynn Anderson

Lynn Anderson
Lynn Anderson

Before her songs were heard on the radio, Lynn Anderson was seen riding horses in rodeo arenas. And even when she was on top in the world of country music, her songs heard all over the radio, she was still in love with horses and riding in horse shows.


Lynn Rene Anderson is the granddaughter of Norwegian and Swedish immigrants who came to the United States to help build the Great Northern Railroad. She was born September 26, 1947, in Grand Forks, North Dakota, to Casey and Liz Anderson. In North Dakota, Lynn’s grandparents founded a “saddle club” and Lynn says, “I could ride before I could walk—at least that’s what they tell me.”

Laddie and Vego were the names of her grandparent’s horses, and she remembers taking them on sleigh rides and skiing behind them. When she was a young girl, the Andersons moved to San Jose, California, where it was warmer. Casey, Liz and Lynn lived in a subdivision. Lynn begged her parents to move to a ranch, so they bought a “ranch” that was two acres in Sacramento.


“There were hundreds of acres surrounding it,” remembered Lynn, when they moved. Her first horse was Apache, which was purchased for $75 and included a McClellan saddle and bridle. “We also adopted a mustang, then tried a Morgan,” said Lynn. “But I learned to ride on Apache.” When she was nine years old, Lynn won second place in the Western Horsemanship Championship held at the Cow Palace in San Francisco.

Then her grandparents came to California with two horses, a Tennessee Walking Horse named Dakota Thunderbird and a palomino named Dakota Chief. At home she was a tomboy. “I’d get up and feed the horses, maybe ride a little before I went to school,” said Lynn. “Our school’s team name was the Broncos, so Apache became the school mascot.” As she grew into her high school years, Lynn’s family had a series of horses, “all named after TV shows,” according to Lynn.

“There was Cheyenne, Sugarfoot and Maverick.” During high school, Lynn landed a job working for a radio station and then, after graduating, became the secretary to the general manager and recorded advertising spots. Meanwhile, she continued to enter horse shows. While Lynn was in the show ring, practicing with her horses, her mom, Liz, was in the stands writing songs. She began sending those songs to Nashville and Los Angeles, trying to get producers and artists interested in recording them.

Chet Atkins heard some demos and offered Liz a recording contract with RCA, which caused the Anderson family to move to Nashville. This was devastating for Lynn. “I had a boyfriend back in California,” she remembers. “I thought I would die!” Before they moved to Nashville, the Anderson family traveled to the Salinas Rodeo in California where Lynn competed in the contest for “Miss Rodeo Queen of California.”


During the car ride Liz was writing a song, “Ride, Ride, Ride.” Lynn announced, “When you finish that, I want to record it.” This was a surprise: Lynn had never shown any interest in being a singer or having a recording contract before this time. Lynn Anderson did not win the “Miss Rodeo Queen of California” title. “There were three parts to the contest.

I finished first in horsemanship, first in scholarship, but fourth in personality and appearance. So I finished third in that contest because I was rude and ugly!” laughs Lynn. Beginning in 1966 Liz Anderson had 19 chart singles for RCA. Her biggest hits were “The Game of Triangles” (with Bobby Bare and Norma Jean) and “Mama Spank,” which both finished in the top five on Billboard’s country charts.

She also had a duet with Lynn, “Mother, May I.” Liz signed a publishing agreement with Slim Williamson, who also owned a small record label, Chart Records. Slim signed Lynn to his label in 1966. Her first session was a “split session,” with Lynn recording “Ride, Ride, Ride” and “In Person” while another Chart artist, Jerry Lane, recorded two songs. “Ride, Ride, Ride” was released that year and rose to number 36 on the country charts. That and her next two chart releases were written by her mom: “If I Kiss You (Will You Go Away)” and “Keeping Up Appearances,” a duet with Jerry Lane. There was a problem with recording for a small label.

“I kept getting covered,” said Lynn. “After I released ‘Ride, Ride, Ride,’ Brenda Lee covered it and had a pop hit.” Lynn had a series of chart records on Chart: “Too Much of You,” “Promises Promises,” “Not Another Time,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Flattery Will Get You Everywhere,” “Our House Is Not a Home,” “That’s a No No,” “He’d Still Love Me,” “I’ve Been Everywhere,” “Rocky Top,” and “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky- tonk Angels.” During the 1967 and 1968 television seasons, Lynn was a regular on the Lawrence Welk Show.


That booking came because Larry Welk, Lawrence’s son, saw Lynn’s album cover and had a crush on the pretty girl sitting on a horse, wearing the outfit she wore for the Miss Rodeo Queen of California title. Larry also loved horses and begged his father to book Lynn on his show so they could meet. “Mom and Dad tried to get me married to Larry,” said Lynn. “But it didn’t work.” At first, Lynn sang songs like “Buttons and Bows” as well as songs with the Lennon Sisters and other group songs.

“Country music was ‘country and western’ to the people in California, because the only thing they knew about country was Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Bob Hope in Paleface,” said Lynn. “So they dressed me up in high button shoes, gingham dresses, with a parasol, and put me beside a wagon wheel with a bale of hay. One day I told Mr. Welk that I wanted to quit because what I was singing was NOT country music.

Mr. Welk was an incredible marketer and paid attention to what people liked and then he’d go with it. So he started letting me sing a country song every Saturday night, including my most recent release.” The Lawrence Welk Show was an important step in Lynn Anderson’s career. “The Welk Show allowed me to have crossover success,” she said. “That show set up ‘Rose Garden’ and without the Welk show I don’t believe that song would have been as big as it was.”

While Lynn was having problems on the West Coast with people’s perception of country music, she also had problems in Nashville being accepted in that world. “It took me a while to get accepted in Nashville,” said Lynn. “I was seen as a kid from California on the Welk show—not a real country artist. There was a rift between California and Nashville country and I was somewhere in between.


The West Coast was grounded in western music and I fought against that at the time. What gave me legitimacy in the country field in Nashville was my record of ‘Rocky Top.’” “Rocky Top” was released in the spring of 1970 and reached number 17 on the country charts.

Lynn Anderson met Glenn Sutton through publisher Al Gallico at an awards dinner. During her time with the Welk show in California, “Mr. Welk and Mom and Dad tried to get me married to Larry,” laughs Lynn. But Sutton, a producer for the CBS labels in Nashville, began to visit her in California because he was interested in producing her.

A romance developed and the two married in 1968. CBS then bought her contract from Slim Williamson at Chart Records and in 1970 she began recording for Epic, one of CBS’s labels, produced by Sutton. Her first release was “Stay There ’Til I Get There,” which was written by Sutton and became a top ten record. Her second Columbia release was “I Found You Just in Time,” written by Sutton and his writing partner, Billy Sherrill.

“Glenn was very politically connected at Columbia and Epic [the two CBS labels],” said Lynn. “His writing partner was Billy Sherrill and their publisher was Al Gallico. Billy and Glenn wrote a lot of hits but Billy was Glenn’s boss at CBS so Billy got the first choice on all their cowrites. Glenn would come home and play me a song they’d cowritten, like ‘Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad’ or ‘I Don’t Wanna Play House,’ and I’d go, ‘That’s great— can I record it?’ and he’d say, ‘No, that goes to Tammy [Wynette].’ So I had to find songs from other sources, which is why a lot of my songs were written by other people.”


That’s how she came to record “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden,” a song written by Atlanta singer- songwriter Joe South. “Rose Garden” first hit the country chart in November 1970 and stayed in the number one position for five weeks. The Rose Garden album won a Grammy for Anderson for Best Female Country Vocal Performance and for Joe South as the songwriter.

The album was an international hit and achieved platinum status in the United States. Her next Columbia release, “You’re My Man,” stayed at number one for two weeks, and her third Columbia single, “How Can I Unlove You,” remained in the number one spot on the country charts for three weeks. “How Can I Unlove You” was also written by Joe South, whose own recordings of “These Are Not My People,” “Games People Play,” “Don’t It Make You Want to Go Home” and “Walk a Mile in My Shoes” were all pop hits.

Lynn had a string of hits on Columbia, hitting the number one spot with “Keep Me in Mind” and “What a Man My Man Is,” and reached the top five with “Cry,” “Listen to a Country Song,” “Fool Me,” “Top of the World,” and “Sing About Love.” It was a busy time for her, touring and doing personal appearances but she continued to enter horse shows. “I’d go sing at a concert, then fly to a horse show, then fly back the next night for a concert.

I was real serious about showing horses!” said Lynn. Anderson’s last chart record for Columbia was “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues,” in 1980. It could have been the title of the next chapter of her life. Lynn and Glenn Sutton divorced in 1977. She then married Harold “Spook” Stream and moved to Louisiana. “I told CBS, ‘I quit,’ and they said, ‘You can’t.’ Then I told them, ‘I’m pregnant’ and that didn’t make them happy either,” said Lynn. “I still did a little recording but it was never the same without Glenn as my musical liaison.”


Lynn and Spook had two children, but that marriage also ended in divorce. So she moved back to Nashville, where she reconnected with Mentor Williams, whom she had met at an ASCAP Awards event when Mentor won an award for his song “Drift Away.” When she moved back to Nashville, she was adrift as a recording artist. Lynn had never had a manager: “Dad mostly managed me at first and then I married Glenn and he managed me while I was at CBS.

I never had to call the head of the label—Glenn did that.” Since she did not have an outside manager, she did not have an advocate working on her career and knocking on doors for her. Lynn was at a low point in her life, filled with regrets. “I remember Bob Hope asked me to go to Vietnam with him for his Christmas tour but Glenn didn’t want me to go,” said Lynn. “I regretted that. I was also offered a part in the movie W.W. and the Dixie Dance Kings but Glenn didn’t want me to do that, either.

He didn’t want to see me making out with Burt Reynolds in the backseat of a car!” “Walking away from CBS like I did was a huge mistake,” said Lynn. “I walked away from what a lot of people dream about. When I came back from Louisiana I tried to get my career going but I was a little afraid about whether I’d be accepted or not. It was awfully easy for me at the beginning because my recording career was almost an accident; it came from being Liz Anderson’s daughter. I was there when she opened the door.

There’s no way I would ever have been lucky enough to become a star if not for Mom kicking those doors open. She’s the one who worked for years and years to get her music to publishers and record labels. When that door squeaked open, I snuck in.” When Lynn returned to Nashville, she never even thought about calling CBS to try to get back on that label; she felt that door was permanently closed. However, she did sign with Bonnie Garner, a former CBS vice president, as a manager.


Still, she was in no place to resume her career where it had left off as a hit recording artist. Those days were behind her. After all those years on top—and a shelf filled with awards from the country music industry—Lynn and Mentor lived in Nashville for several years before they decided to move to Taos, New Mexico. “Mentor was originally from New Mexico and wanted to get back,” said Lynn. “And I fell in love with Taos.” The pace was slower and peace came haltingly. She loved the western way of life. “I wear the boots and hat every day,” said Lynn. “It’s not just for show.” Liz Anderson increasingly wrote western songs and recorded western music.

This stirred fond memories of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans in Lynn. “You had to pick a favorite—Gene Autry or Roy Rogers—and I picked Roy and Dale. You had to be faithful to your hero and I was,” said Lynn, who came to know Roy and Dale from working with them. “I rode a horse into a rodeo arena, just like Roy and Dale did. I was the only country singer who could do that because I grew up riding horses.

I saw several rodeos with them and we sometimes traded dates. I would be on one night and they would be on the next night. I actually worked more with Dale, who was my hero. I remember sitting in dressing rooms, just swapping stories with Dale.” There was another connection. “I’ve always called my parents ‘Roy and Dale’ because they’re very much the same kind of people as the real Roy Rogers and Dale Evans,” said Lynn. “They are similar because they epitomize the cowboy way.”

As Lynn talked with her parents and listened to her mom’s western songs, she began to feel an urge to record them. “I wanted to make Mom and Dad happy,” said Lynn. “I hadn’t recorded anything for a while and the combination of Mom having cancer and my respect for her and her music made me realize that this was something I needed to do.”


The result is her album Cowgirl, which contains a song she cowrote with her mother, “Full Moon in Baghdad.” “Singing was always easier for me,” said Lynn. “Besides, I was always around a writer—first Mom, then Glenn and now Mentor—and so I had made it a point of not writing. But on this song, I wrote down all the ideas I wanted to say and took them to Mother. And that’s how that song came.” Lynn resumed performing. “I don’t want to die in the back of a Silver Eagle,” said Lynn.

Then she tells the story of Fern Sawyer, who ran the New Mexico State Fair for years. “Fern rode a horse leading the Grand Entry at the New Mexico State Fair, then after the Entry, when the horse stopped, she fell off. That’s probably a good way to go.” Life certainly has its ups and downs, and Lynn has known her share of both. But she is now happy, active in her career and enjoying her work with a number of charities. “I helped found Special Riders in Franklin, Tennessee, and was on their board for several years,” said Lynn.

“That program started when my daughter had a birthday party and we had horses there for the kids to ride. There was one boy on crutches who wanted to ride so we got him in the saddle, put someone on each side of him and had someone else lead the horse.

Later that evening his mom called back and said he couldn’t stop talking about that horse ride. She said, ‘Can we keep this going?’ So that’s how we started.” In Fort Worth there is the Rocky Top Riders. “I didn’t found it,” said Lynn. “But they named it after my song.” She has been on the board of the National Autistic Treatment Center in Dallas and does an annual fund- raiser for them.


She’s also involved in Canine Search and Rescue. “We started fund- raising for ‘all things that are creatures,’” said Lynn. “It is animals working with people. My special love is working with kids and horses.” Lynn conducts Rodeo Queen clinics, helping young girls learn “how to get ready for those contests.

All the little stuff, from grooming your horse to grooming yourself. How to present your horse and yourself,” said Lynn. “We have clinics on everything from how to wear your hair under your hat to matching your outfit with your horse.” Lynn has also been involved in the American Cancer Society through the National Cutting Horse Association. “We use horses to raise money for cancer care,” said Lynn.

“My special contribution is wearing a pink cowboy hat for cancer awareness.” Lynn Anderson found a new home in western music. “I do it because I love this music,” she said. “Having walked away from Nashville and the country music business, I still want to sing because I love it and I love hearing the applause of an audience.”

SOURCE: Anderson, Liz. Phone interview with the author, May 9 and May 11, 2007